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Mineral Contamination from Cemetery Soils: Case Study of Zandfontein Cemetery, South Africa

DOI: 10.3390/ijerph9020511

Keywords: minerals, heavy metals, cemetery, coffins, burial load, pollution, soil

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The burial of coffins may pose an environmental and health hazard since the metals that are used in coffin-making may corrode or degrade into harmful toxins. These may leach into the surrounding soils and groundwater. Very little research has been conducted world-wide on the mineral contamination potential of cemeteries, and virtually none in South Africa. The aim of the study is to determine whether burial practices affect the mineral content of soils in cemeteries. This was done by comparing the mineral concentrations of soils within the Zandfontein Cemetery in Tshwane (Gauteng, South Africa) to those off-site as well as those in zones with high burial loads with those zones with fewer burials. Twenty three soil samples were collected from various sites on- and off-site and analyzed for 31 minerals using ICP-AES. It was found that mineral concentrations of soils within the Zandfontein Cemetery were considerably higher than those off-site. Soil samples in multiple burials blocks also have elevated metal concentrations. These excess metals are probably of anthropogenic origin associated with burial practices and could pose an environmental and human health hazard. Strict monitoring of water quality in boreholes in the vicinity of the cemetery is recommended.


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